Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Raffe and his family have traveled to Castle Guldbrandsen, the court of King Waldemere, to attend his older brother Tallis’ take The Blooding, a test which if he survives will see him transformed forever into a Prince of the Blood, members of the King’s Legion and warriors of unimaginable strength, magical powers, and near invincibility. Now on the day of the test, they have been informed, along with the king and all the members of the court, that Tallis has fled the castle, leaving behind only a note to say farewell. The humiliation and threat of death he and his family face because of Tallis’ actions is shameful and overwhelming.
Raffe had always envied Tallis for his prospects and physique. Tallis was the golden boy,tall, handsome, deft with weaponry or a charming word. And Raffe was he exact opposite, small, dark and nondescript. He was also an accountant, destined for marriage to an affluent merchant who already had three wives. But before he even realized what he was doing, he heard himself say “take me, your Highness, take me in his place”. And after some private discussion, King Waldemere did. For only those families and sons with the correct percentage of demon blood in their veins could be a Prince of the Blood and if nothing else, Raffe had the same blood as did Tallis.
If Raffe survives The Blooding, he will become a Prince of the Blood, who,along with dragoons, shadowmarch, sorcerers, titans , protect the kingdom from the dark forces, the beasts and terrors of an ancient war, that threaten them all. But Raffe’s test comes at a time when an ancient evil is rising once again, more powerful than any that has been seen in hundreds of years. Can a weakling survive the most crucial test of his life to become the warrior his Kingdom needs the most?
Of Last Resort is another magnificent, riveting tale of magic by that master of fantasy, Megan Derr. Her world building is incomparable as is her ability to set the stage for the magical pyrotechnics and emotional journey that is to follow. One of the feature I have always loved about Derr’s stories is the balance she creates between the large scale elements and the small intimacies of thought and emotions running through the main characters. Here the transformations, history and various talents of the Blood Princes reside along the fears and insecurities of Raffe who never imagined such a life for himself.
A fantasy story on this level cannot exist without characters of great heart and great evil, no matter how splendid the world building. And in Raffe, Alrin, Telme’ and all the rest of the memorable cast of this story, Megan Derr gives us heroes to believe in, whether they be demon, human, werewolf, shade or dragon shifter. Raffe is one that I took to heart from the opening scene as he bravely steps forward to take his brother’s place even as he expects to die during the testing. Derr makes it clear that he is of little value to his parents other than as a way to broker a tie to richer class and that all, including himself, find him weak and unassuming. Here he is at the beginning after it is revealed that his brother is gone:
“Take me” Raffe said before his parents could speak, stepping in front of them to drop to his knees before the throne. He placed his fisted hands in front of him, knuckles to the floor, and bowed his head low. “My blood is the same. Take me in his place, your Majesty.”
Silence met his words, and Raffe’ cheeks flushed as he braced himself for the shame of rejection. He could all but feel his parents’ mortification, hear the amused derision of the assembled court in their tittering, poorly muffled laughs, the disapproval of his fiance’ in his soft sigh. He cringed when the silence stretched on, but said, “I am not my brother, Majesty, I know. We are the same blood, however, and I have not run away. I will not run away.” He dared to look up, meet the king’s gaze, hoping he understood what Raffe’ was not saying: that he would die if his Majesty would spare his parents.
Simple and heartrending, we embrace Raffe’ even as he accepts his fate and finds the courage to step forward. The first part of the story is told from Raffe’ point of view. From the man he is prior to The Blooding, to the terrifying ceremony to determine if he can survive The Blooding and beyond. A lifetime of verbal abuse and treatment as the insignificant son has made Raffe’ insecure, unsure of his own abilities and ashamed of his poor physique. That is a mental state not swift to change no matter what other transformations may follow. I loved that aspect of this story as well. It is reflective of a real person’s nature to see the image their mind imagines instead of what is a true representation of themselves reflected back. We love Raffe’ because we can understand and empathize with him.
Then another character takes over the point of view for a while. It’s a necessary switch-off, pertinent to the story. But to go into details here would spoil some of the twists Derr has in store for us. Let’s just say, you will be surprised by this character again and again throughout the story. He is both physically magnificent and emotionally torn. I found myself falling in love with him as much as I did with Raffe’. Of course, then I found myself loving Telme’ and the rest of the Princes of the Blood as well and as deeply.
The blurb for the story infers a vampiric need for blood for the Princes which is true, but interestingly it is demons of all types that Derr is creating here. Within this story there resides a gallery of characters and races, each worthy of their own story. I hope that occurs because the world and beings that Derr has left us with entertain both our minds and hearts, leaving the reader grasping for more of each one and their backstory.
Megan Derr’s prose moves swiftly and fluidly, building the suspense and anticipation even as she engages our hearts and sympathies for the main characters. There will be heart stopping battles, deaths so painful it will bring tears to your eyes, and untold acts of villainy as to clench your fists. What a saga! I can’t wait to see what the next story brings. Put this on your must have, must read now list! Trust me when I say you won’t be able to put this down once you have started!
Cover art by Aisha Akeju. Terrific cover as is the map inside, simple and elegant.
Update: The sequel to Of Last Resort, With Pride (Princes of the Blood #2) will be released April 16th. Mark your calendars!
Expected publication: February 19th 2014 by Less Than Three Press LLC (first published July 24th 2013)
original title Of Last Resort